The elephant in the room

Afrasiab Khattak

Afrasiab Khattak

Amidst the persistent military tension on the Line of Control between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir, the first week of October saw a deepening civil-military schism in Pakistan’s power structure surfacing to the public and getting reported in national and international press.

Massive protests in the streets of Indian controlled Kashmir for the last almost three months have thoroughly embarrassed India and even the brutal measures in large numbers of its security forces have failed to quell the popular agitation. But when it comes to the international response to the situation in Kashmir, Pakistani diplomacy has a disadvantage on two counts. One, there have been terrorist attacks in Indian controlled Kashmir in recent years some of which were traced to Pakistan-based proscribed organizations such as Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) and Jaish e Muhammad (JeM). To the utter dismay of not only India, but also of other important members of international community, the government of Pakistan failed to take any action against these proscribed organisations, some think because of their alleged closeness to the country’s intelligence agencies.

Two, the current uprising was triggered by the death of a young commander Burhan Wani. There is almost negligible international criticism of Indian repression in Kashmir. It was in this context that in high level meetings in Pakistan on security and foreign policy the civilian leadership pointed an accusing finger at the security establishment’s patronage of proscribed militant outfits accused of terrorism. It is also pertinent to mention that the aforementioned high level meetings were held in the aftermath of cancellation of the Islamabad SAARC summit when seven out of total eight members (including India) pulled out of it. Most of them referred to the “problem of terrorism” as the main reason for their refusal to attend the SAARC summit in Islamabad. It is undoubtedly a foreign policy fiasco and a testimony to Pakistan’s total isolation in South Asia. It goes without saying that a continuous Pakistani support to Taliban’s all out war on Afghan state and society is an important factor in shaping her image as country that supports anti-state wars in the neighboring countries. The civilian part of the Pakistani state system is conscious of the fact the total monopoly of the country’s security establishment over Afghan policy led to the rupture of rapprochement with Afghanistan that had begun with President Ashraf Ghani’s historic Pakistan visit in 2014. So in the aforementioned high-level meetings Pakistan’s civilian leadership has spotted the elephant in the room but what can it do about it is the real question.

However, to be more accurate the civil military divide in Pakistan did not start with the recent military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was there all along after the general elections of 2008 when democratically elected civilian government started to assert its authority. The PPP-led coalition government was able to introduce important constitutional reforms and to an extent could enhance the role of parliament in shaping the state policies. But President Asif Ali Zardari had to face blunt and naked coercion of the country’s security establishment to curtail civilian control over state policies. It was in the shape of the so-called memo commission, the background music of the notorious minus-one formula and the aggressive CJ of the Apex Court. However, civil-military tussle entered a new stage when Nawaz Sharif led PML-N won a clear majority in the 2013 general elections. This particular political party has its political base in the province of Punjab which is not only population-wise a bigger province than all the others put together but it also enjoys heavy domination in both civil and military bureaucracies and business elites of the country. As the authentic leader of Punjabi bourgeoisie and head of Muslim League, a political party that was once headed by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif is better able than any other political leader to stand up to the security establishment for asserting civilian authority. As a third time Prime Minister of the country he has a far greater experience in facing the overbearing security establishment that breathes heavily on the neck of civil governments. He is the only Prime Minister who has so far appointed three army chiefs and is shortly about to appoint the fourth one. That in itself is a record of sorts in a country where the military has either ruled the country directly or has resorted to back seat driving when it was not in a position to take over.

But this time round the situation is trickier than ever. PM Nawaz Sharif has won elections on a clear mandate focusing on the economic development of the country that necessitates normalisation of relations with the neighboring countries. Interestingly his election plate from in 2013 not only promised to forge normal relations with India but it also included starting economic cooperation with the eastern neighbor. Nawaz Sharif has been quite serious and consistent in this policy and has not hesitated from taking bold steps in this direction. Now this is a red rag to the country’s powerful security establishment that thrives on tension with neighboring countries. But to be fair the BJP government in India also failed to understand political dynamics in Pakistan and did not reciprocate Nawaz Sharif’s bold gestures. Its insistence on a military solution to the situation in Kashmir has definitely strengthened the hands of hawks in Pakistani ruling circles.

The first sit in by Imran Khan and Tahir Ul Qadri for overthrowing the government in 2014 is part of history. Now comes season two of the get-the-government campaign. Under the cover of demand for investigating the scandal of offshore companies revealed by the so-called Panama Papers there is move for a “regime change”. Ironically those who do not get tired of talking about the moral authority of PM Nawaz Sharif don’t say a word about the escape of General Pervez Musharraf from the country while facing charges of high treason for abrogating the Constitution. Be that as it may, timing and modus operandi of the current script being implemented by Imran Khan seems to be following the recent Egyptian model. But let us remember that the federation of Pakistan is a totally different country and unlike Egypt the loss of a federal parliamentary constitution can be fatal for her.

Writer: Afrasiab Khattak

The writer is a regular contributor to THE PASHTUN TIMES. He is a retired senator and a leader of Awami National Party (ANP). He tweets    @a_siab 

THE PASHTUN TIMES

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